Meet the people who are celebrating this year's wonderful Autumn harvest.
Juicy blackberries, golden sweetcorn and crisp apples; autumn brings an abundance of glorious British produce. And to celebrate this bounty – and all the people who’ve helped to put to it on our plates – Tesco is supporting Love British Food’s Bring Home the Harvest campaign, which is part of British Food Fortnight (20 Sept-5 Oct) – the UK’s biggest national celebration of home-grown fruit and vegetables.
The worthwhile event has already kicked off with a competition for the most imaginative harvest celebration, plus a children’s service at Birmingham Cathedral, while restaurants nationwide will continue to offer delicious harvest fare on their menus.
Marking the annual harvest has been important for centuries and, although the tradition of storing up food for winter has evolved, the seasonality message is still just as relevant today. So, this autumn, celebrate, and make the most of British food, whether it’s a plum from your garden, herbs from your windowsill or a bag of potatoes from Tesco.
The vegetable farmers
Twins Toby and Oliver Bartlett are fourth- generation farmers at Alan Bartlett and Sons. They’ve been supplying Tesco for 40 years.
Toby: ‘As children, we’d get excited about going round the fields with our dad. The plan, for us, was always to go into the family business and we love it.’
Oliver: ‘It’s hard work, but it beats a desk job. Carrot harvesting starts at 10pm and we work through the night. Our biggest challenge is weather, particularly if we’ve had lots of rain. The soil becomes heavy, which makes the tractors hard to move, so everything takes a lot longer.’
Toby: ‘But we can’t let customers down, so we just get on with it. We look after the whole process, from preparing the land and growing the crops, to washing and packing, which ensures the quality is the best it can be.’
Oliver: ‘Our team is dedicated and walks the crops every day to check everything’s just right.’
Toby: ‘And everyone working in the office gets a bag of carrots and parsnips to take home at the end of the week – we always welcome their feedback.’
Oliver: ‘The British public today understands, more than ever, the health benefits of eating fresh fruit and veg, but it’s also important, especially for kids, to know where it comes from. Harvest festival shows there’s more to veg than just a carrot on a plate – a lot of dedication goes into putting it there.’
Emma Williams is a vegetable buyer at Tesco. She works closely with farmers to source the best-quality produce for store.
‘I know more about carrots and parsnips then anyone I know! It’s natural to gain a passion for the produce while doing this job, which for me involves spending lots of time visiting our famers to check the quality of crops. I work with 19 farmers, including Alan Bartlett and Sons. I love going out to the fields and getting my hands dirty, and I’ve been on my fair share of tractors. It’s so rewarding seeing the vegetables being dug up from the ground – especially when you’ve witnessed the work that went into growing them.
Harvest time is a fantastic opportunity for everyone to get together and celebrate the amazing people who grow our food, as well as the produce itself. Most of my memories of Harvest Festival are from school, but we should continue to recognise it into adulthood so the next generation understand where their food comes from.
As a lot of veg is available all year round in store, it’s even more important that people are in touch with when British produce is in season. The UK has such a vibrant farming industry and we should be proud of what we’re growing.’
Anna Calver is a teacher at Brookland Primary School, Kent. The children celebrate Harvest festival every year – an important event for their farming community.
‘Many children have lost touch with where their food comes from. Fortunately for children of farming families like those in our school, that’s not the case. All the kids enjoy growing things in the school patch. Just at the end of the summer term, the reception class dug up their poatoes and used them to make potato salad. They were fascinated by the growing process – it’s a magical thing for them to see something start out as a seed and watch it grow into something edible. It encourages them to try new things, too.
We use the food to help develop the childrens’ skills in other areas of the curriculum – science and maths, for example. They do a lot of weighing and measuring, and study the changes that take place with the food they’re growing.
The school celebrates Harvest time every year at the church next door. It’s a really important event for the kids and the adults. As Brookland is such a tiny village, we get together with the local nursery schools to produce pictures and displays for the church, and we invite members of the community, too. There’s always a sale of local produce after the service. The UK has such an abundance of fresh food and produce to offer. It should be celebrated.’
The dairy farmer
Ryan Haydon rears cattle on his farm in Arundel, West Sussex. He’s been supplying Tesco with milk for seven years and is a member of Tesco’s Sustainable Dairy Group.
‘When people think of harvest they automatically think of fruit and vegetables, but the land itself is fundamental – it’s the starting point for everything we grow,includingthecropsthat feed the cattle that produce the milk. I grow wheat and barley, as well as grass and maize, which is often turned into silage and given to my Friesian dairy cattle. There’s satisfaction in growing a good, healthy crop for my animals. It’s important that the quality is there, right at the start of the food chain. Our land is a wonderful, valuable resource and it’s important that we look after and appreciate it.
As so much food is available to us all year round, the natural British harvest can sometimes get overlooked – but with more people cooking from scratch, there’s been an increase in awareness of the provenance
of our food, and a tremendous sense of pride in the British farmers who produce it. Long may it continue!
The allotment owner
Martha Swales has transformed her allotment in Greenwich into a glorious all-season vegetable patch.
‘Three years ago I visited Kew gardens and came back with packets of vegetable seeds from its shop. I had no idea what I was doing, but I grew cucumbers, courgettes, butternut squashes and aubergines – all kinds of stuff, which I put in grow bags on my mum’s lawn. I ended up killing the grass because of the number of bags, which was when she said: ‘No more!’ So I found myself an allotment.
I get a lot of satisfaction from growing new things, but it’s also about understanding the intricacies of the environment; when I dig the soil the robins come for the worms, and I also grow wild flowers for the bees. Being able to give food to my family is a wonderful thing – my two-year-old nephew knows that when I bring home tomatoes they’ve been grown on my allotment.
I didn’t have much of an idea about seasons until I started growing things. It’s made me appreciate the work of people who grow vegetables on a big scale and make it economically viable. Recently, I planted some herbs in window boxes for my housemates – it only cost me a few quid, but they now have fresh herbs on tap. Growing your own veg is a wonderful thing – it’s the gift that keeps on giving.’
Find out September's season's best
As featured in Tesco Magazine September 2014.